Everything I Wish I Knew Before I TraveledThursday, October 20, 2011
This is the text version of Lois' talk about Traveling during the Belle de Jour Fair at Eastwood City, Manila for empowered girls who want to take flight. Most of this is stuff we learned from our travels. Remember that all advice is autobiographical. Your mileage may vary.
If you were given the opportunity to travel to 9 countries for 6 months under 100,000PHP would you take on the challenge? (the girls all answered with a resounding YES!!!)
To top it off, you've never traveled long term, never traveled alone and didn't even own a backpack! Do you think it's doable?
We did exactly that! Sole Sisters is the story of 2 girls who quit their job to travel the world. Chichi and I met when we worked at the same company and we shared a passion for travel. We had no prior travel and blogging savvy but together we planned and went on a 6 month trip around India and Southeast Asia. After our journey, we went back home to share our story and reinvent our lives.
glampackers. All we thought about was luxury travel, looking great on the travel photos and still being fashionable while on the road.
How did we do it? I'm sharing with you everything I wish I knew before I traveled:
What's the first thing you need in order to start traveling? Money of course. Here's how we were able to save enough money to go traveling for 6 months.
Minimize your spending by skipping the inessentials. Your daily Starbucks coffee, monthly shopping sprees and weekly mani and pedi are inessentials. Have a No Bills Policy. Cut off your post-paid plan, cable and internet bill and credit card spending. I even moved closer to the office in order to save money on transportation costs. All the money you save should be deposited to a separate savings account that you can't easily withdraw from.
When it comes to everything you've accumulated, you can Keep, Give or Sell. Keep the things you absolutely can't live without and give or sell the rest. And remember 3-month rule: If you haven’t worn or used that item in the past 3 months, then you won’t be using them in the future. Before our trip, Chichi launched the Every Dress Counts campaign where she sold most of her clothes, shoes and bags. She sold them online and through friends and colleagues. Through that campaign, she raised 54,600PHP- that's more than half of her travel fund! I recently organized a Traveler's Garage Sale where 6 travelers who were about to go on Epic Journeys raised funds to jumpstart their adventures.
Come up with your own ideas on how to raise funds in order to travel. Start small like freelancing or earning online.
Once you've started to save up for your escape fund, you can plan for your trip.
I seriously hate this part. I don't enjoy researching the itinerary or route. I don't like pencil-pushing and logistics. So I left the pre-trip planning to my boyfriend Hutch and my Sole Sister Chichi. For lazy travelers like myself, here's the simple version: Start with listing all the places you want to visit. Plot them on the map. Do the research on how you can get from one place to the other. See if can travel overland or need to take flights.
One important thing is: Don’t backtrack. It's a waste of time and money. And lastly, Be flexible. On our itinerary, we had initially planned on going from our 7th country, Thailand, to Malaysia. But while in Chiang Mai, we met a lot of crazy couchsurfers who were going to Myanmar. We changed our minds and went to Myanmar with them and that became one of the highlights of our journey.
Get online support. Sign up for airline newsletters to know ahead when they're having low fares and seat sales. When we planned our trip, we learned a lot from travel bloggers like Dave of The Longest Way Home, Nina of Just Wandering and Flip of Flipnomad, among others. Connect with travelers who have been to the places you want to go to and ask them questions. One great decision we've made was to start our own travel blog. We weren't experts. We were just 2 girls who were about to start a big adventure. And we needed all the help we could get. It's the best way to connect to a huge online community of travelers who are helpful in assisting you with your plans.
Do your research well when it comes to visas. Know how much it costs (if any), for how long is the duration and what documents you need to secure. If you don't do your research, you'll pay for this mistake dearly (like we did). I had flown to Thailand before and was given a 30 day visa at the airport immigration. So I assumed we would be given the same duration upon crossing the border from Cambodia to Thailand. Wrong. If you cross the border overland into Thailand, you're only given 15 days. So we had to do an emergency visa run before our visa ran out. That was an unexpected expense.
If you travel for more than a month, do get travel insurance. You never know what's going to happen on the road so it's best to get covered.
Guys never have this problem. But girls always have a hard time packing, don't you agree? You can still backpack and be chic at the same time!
Make sure you only bring the necessities. If you can buy it at your destination, don’t pack it. One good trick is to pack and the take only half. Yes, just HALF. Believe me, you wouldn't need more than that. We learned this the hard way. We started out with 15kgs in our backpacks. But towards the end of our trip, I forgot to purchase luggage allowance and we had to downgrade to the 7kgs hand carried luggage allowance. We left more than half of our stuff along the way!
Do we need to bring makeup while traveling? Sure, you don't need to look grungy even when backpacking! But just bring what you need. Tinted moisturizer with SPF, cream blush, lip balm, loose powder and you're all set! Bring basic tops but don't forget to accessorize. You don't need to bring loads of accessories. Just buy them as you go along. Chichi brought bracelets from every country we visited which made nice souvenirs. Bring colorful scarves and headbands to liven up your outfit.
How do you make sure you don't end up stranded and penniless on the road? Budget your travel funds and keep track of your spending.
Whenever you can, skip flights and travel overland. Imagine yourself getting on a motorbike and going through breathtaking landscapes. Or biking around the majestic temples of Angkor Wat. How about taking trains, trying delicacies and talking to locals and fellow travelers? Sure, it's not always comfortable. But it's the best way to experience a country.
Instead of always staying at hotels, try alternatives like hostels. You won't be staying in the room most of the time anyway. You can try Roomarama for short-term rentals. You still get the privacy for less the cost. You may want to try Couchsurfing. It's a traveler's community where you can stay at a local's place for free. You may also host a traveler in your country. It's a great venue for cultural exchange and we've met so many wonderful people all over the world through this community.
Food is going to take up a lot of your budget. So how can you eat well without running broke? Try streetfood. Go where the locals eat. Usually, if a place is packed, the food is good and cheap. Ask fellow travelers you meet for their recommendations.
Be open to trying new food. It's a major part of the travel experience. We've had some crunchy bugs in Laos. We ate curry with our bare hands in India. We tasted raw shellfish with spices and peanuts in Vietnam. They were so delicious! I can attest that Filipinos have an iron stomach. Thankfully, we never got sick in the entire 6-months we've been traveling.
How do you have the Ultimate Travel Experience? I have only one advice for you: Don't be a tourist. Don't just go to a country, take a lot of pictures then leave. Talk to the locals. Ask about their lives. Tell them about yours. For many parts of the world, you are their walking newspaper and living TV set. In places like Myanmar, you are their only access to the outside world. Make sure they get a good impression.
Go off the beaten path. Leave the guidebook every once in a while. We made a big decision while we were in Thailand and just decided to sell off our Lonely Planet guidebook. It wasn't only heavy and bulky, we also needed the extra cash. But it was a wise (though scary) move. It forced us to ask locals for directions, ask travelers for recommendations and rely on our own instincts.
At this point, I just made the photos do the talking:
If there's anything you can take away from my talk, it's this: Start traveling and start traveling now. It's the best learning experience you can ever give yourself.
What about you? What are things you wish you knew before you started traveling?
Thanks to Belle de Jour for inviting us to speak at their fabulous Fair and Power Planner Launch. We loved the opportunity to talk to young girls and encourage them to start their own adventures.
We're giving away some Belle de Jour planners on the next post so stay tuned for that.
Still learning and itching to travel again,
Sole Sister Lois
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